Fri 22 Apr 2011
This kind of debate is absolutely and endlessly fascinating to me. Go ahead, read ‘em all. I’ll admit that the original Landsburg example was very counter-intuitive to me, even though I generally agree with him. But that’s not the interesting part — it’s that there is such an amazing divide. And not a polite one either, Krugman actually implies that Landsburg doesn’t really deserve his Ph.D.
That there can be such a debate over (what seems to me) to be a very basic principle of the field is totally astonishing. Physicists might argue over whether string theory is valid or not, but that’s pretty advanced stuff — they all basically agree on how simple stuff like inclined planes work. Now, I understand that there are no political implications in the area of inclined planes — if there were, (is friction conservative or progressive?) there might be more debate. But even in fields with heavily charged issues — take climatology or evolutionary biology — the tendency seems to be for the field to develop a consensus and then mock the outsiders who disagree. But this seems to be a pretty bedrock disagreement amongst a number of well-respected (though politically opposed) industry insiders.
This seems to have pretty scary implications for the science. And even if the debate is not over the actual theory and definitions, but rather over the potentially implied policies of that theory, that brings up an equally uncomfortable conclusion: that at least one side of this debate thinks that the theory must be presented in a way that supports their policy goals.
I really wanted to title this post: “Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Tax Forms.”